With new variants on the rise, are COVID-19 booster shots coming soon?

ORLANDO, Fla. — With the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the delta variant, as well as other variants, there is much talk about a coronavirus vaccine booster shot.

More than seven months after the COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out, it is still not clear how long immunity from Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose regimen or Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine will last.

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The issue is being studied to determine if and when booster shots would be needed.

Dr. Bruce Rankin is the Medical Director at Accel Clinical Research in Deland. He ran clinical trials for all of the authorized coronavirus vaccines. Those initial trial participants will soon be coming in for their one year assessment where researchers will analyze “where they’re at with their immune statues, how well they’re able to fight off their original coronavirus, as well as these new variants we’re seeing,” Rankin said.

That will determine whether a booster is needed for everyone.

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“The delta variant now represents 83% of sequenced cases,” said Dr. Rochele Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors continue to state that current vaccines protect people from this strain of the virus, and breakthrough cases can happen, but they are rare, and an infected vaccinated person will not get severely sick.

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“The MRNA, they are 93-94% effective in preventing clinically recognized disease. If you see a fall below that into the 80%, or even unfortunately - hope it never happens - into the 70s, then you know you’ve reached a point where durability needs a boost. Those studies are ongoing,” said National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Rankin said the booster shot that trial participants would receive is close to, but not necessarily a direct copy, of the original vaccine they received. Rankin said the vaccine can be slightly adjusted like the flu shot is every year.

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“You can put three or four various types in one vaccine and boost against all those at one time,” Rankin said.

That is something pharmaceutical companies are already working on. Right now though, the booster shot that people are asking for would likely be the same shot. The thought is that another dose could offer extra protection against the more serious strains for immunocompromised people.

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“Certainly, we are looking at all that. Remember this vaccine right now, they are under emergency use authorization and require additional authorization for a booster,” said FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

A CDC advisory panel is set to talk about booster shots on Thursday. While no vote is planned, the conversation could open a path for the FDA to alter its authorization of the current COVID vaccines to allow booster shots specifically for the immunocompromised.

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